How to Engage with Standards Development

Aug. 13, 2021
On today's Take Five: A recent whitepaper from the Industrial Internet Consortium walks readers through the pros and cons of engaging with standards development groups.
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Quick hits:

  • Attitudes toward standards for a given technology often follow a common lifecycle.
  • Being involved with standards development can offer a company strategic advantages.
  • While there are many benefits to being involved with standards development, there are also some risks to consider.

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Read the transcript below:

Hello and welcome to another Take Five with Automation World. I’m David Miller, Senior Technical Writer for Automation World.

Today, I’d like to talk about a whitepaper that was recently put out by the Industrial Internet Consortium on the different ways that companies can get involved with standards development.

Now, what really stood out to me about this white paper—and what was interesting about it—is that rather than just walking the reader through specific standards and the minutiae of their provisions, this paper actually presented a vision of how standards affect the business landscape, and how companies can turn their involvement with the creation of these standards into a market strategy.

So, first it’s useful to understand why we are seeing the proliferation of so many new standards right now. The reason is that there’s a common pattern we see in the lifecycle of technologies, and many of the technologies used in industry are reaching a certain stage in that cycle now.

In essence, when technologies are first being developed, standards are often eschewed because these products are proprietary or even experimental – as such, any restriction at all on their development is seen to essentially stymie innovation.

Once commercialization picks up pace for these technologies, vendors are focused on locking customers in to their unique offering. That too means any kind of standard offering interoperability could be a detriment to their business model. However, when the technology becomes more mature and begins to reach a commodity status, customers increasingly desire integration so that they can migrate from one product or system to another, or potentially engage in best-of-breed sourcing and procurement.

Suppliers, meanwhile, want to broaden their customer base rather than selling to the same end-users over and over again, which has stopped ensuring growth and become a drag on it instead. So the vendor lock in model has outlived its original purpose – that’s where we are now.

As you can imagine, that’s why this whitepaper is making suggestions as to how suppliers can get involved in the standards-making process.

So, what this white paper most effectively walks readers through is what the pros and cons of being involved in standards-making efforts might be. On the one hand, earlier involvement in standards development will allow companies to position themselves as thought leaders; it will allow them to prepare for the implementation of future standards earlier in their product development lifecycles; and most importantly, it will allow them to put their finger on the scale, and influence the standard that is initially devised so that it works with their product and their product works with it.

On the other hand, there are some risks. For instance, if your company has a particularly proprietary or innovative technology, involvement in a standards committee could involve some leakage of valuable intellectual property. Not only that, but involvement may be a drain on time and resources. One consideration to make for smaller companies in particular is whether or not the influence they have on the committee will yield enough benefits to justify the cost of involvement.

On all of these points and more, the whitepaper gives some useful tips on how to evaluate your companies place in the market and decide what the appropriate degree of standards-making engagement is.

As an example, the paper discusses procedure for cataloging the various different building blocks of a given product’s technology stack, and making the relationship of each component to standards currently being developed. The goal of this is to allow companies to identify the commodity components in their products which they are comfortable participating in standards development for, so that they can separate them from the more proprietary, value-added technologies they want to guard.

In addition to that, advice is given on designing corporate governance policies and authoring participation agreements with standards making bodies to protect intellectual property to the greatest extent possible, should companies engage in standards making activities for these more proprietary components.

So, this paper is a very interesting read – I think it could be useful to many companies – and as well as the strategic advice offered, it has several very useful appendixes that detail past, present, and future standards relating to various different types of technologies, as well as a list of standards development organizations, industry consortia, and other associations. If this is something your company is interested in learning more about, I can’t recommend it highly enough.